With training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers now less than a month away, many sites similar to this one are breaking down some of the key position battles heading into the 2012 season. At SA, we’ll give you a brief preview first of both sides of the ball and then in July we’ll start breaking down the specific positions in the days leading up to camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Obviously Ben Roethlisberger will be the starter but the battle for the second and third spots may become very interesting as the summer turns to fall. The Steelers this past week released former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith leaving three real options for those two spots.
The incumbents are of course Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. These are two guys that give you immediate leadership and a veteran presence on the field. The other guy is Jerrod Johnson who at 6’5″ 251lbs is the youngster of the group. I believe there is a strong possibility that Johnson will overtake one of the veterans for a spot on the roster simply because of his youth and injury history of both Leftwich and Batch.
We know this much heading into camp, it’s Isaac Redman and….. that’s about it. While he has made comments to the contrary, Rashard Mendenhall will no doubt start the season on the PUP list whether he feels 100% or not so let’s take him out of the equation. Also on the roster are Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey.
We know that several players and coaches have gushed openly about the speed and quickness of Rainey through the OTAs and mini-camps, but Batch seems to have aquitted himself nicely after ACL surgery. Clay and Dwyer need to have very big camps in order to grab a roster spot because neither is going to offer the team any value other than at running back.
Once thought to be a dirty word in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have already announced that David Johnson will serve as a full-time fullback. His competition will come in the form of 2nd year man Will Johnson. With an overabundance of running backs, I don’t see the Steelers keeping more than one fullback on the active roster. Either way look for a ‘Johnson’ to get the call.
Let’s assume Mike Wallace will be in camp at some point to secure his number one spot and Antonio Brown is clearly the number two guy. That leaves a real battle for the third receiver spot between the veteran Jerricho Cotchery and the younger Emmanuel Sanders. Cotchery has often been referred to as ‘Hines Ward Lite’ and with good reason. He isn’t overly fast or quick, but he catches the ball, blocks and finds ways to get open. Sanders has dealt with injury problems since his rookie campaign and needs an injury-free season to keep himself in the Steelers future plans. He has all the tools, he just needs to stay healthy.
The fifth spot is also a tough call with several players on the roster currently who could challenge for the position. It’s clear that anyone who is the fifth guy must also be a special teams’ guy as well so that will play into the decision. Best bets at the current time are Toney Clemons and Penn State’s Derrick Williams although there are five or six others in camp.
Much like the QB spot, this one is safely in the hands of Heath Miller. I predict this position to have some of the most competitive battles in camp. While Todd Haley disciple Leonard Pope is entrenched at the #2 spot, second year man Wes Saunders played better as the season went along last year, but his four-game suspension to open the season will not do him any favors.
Also looking for a spot are rookie David Paulson of Oregon and Jamie McCoy of Texas A&M. I really think you’ll see some tough action from these guys as they fight for a spot.
Let’s assume the following; Max Starks does not return and the starting five for training camp are Mike Adams, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. This leaves back-up positions up for grabs for guys like Ramon Foster, Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott.
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler likes guys who can play multiple positions so that will be an added bonus to anyone fits the bill. Also in the mix is late round draft pick Kelvin Beachum from SMU who has incredible smarts. He could be one of the versatile guys Kugler is looking for. There are a couple of other guys who will be in camp, but I believe the focus will be on the group above.
Coming tomorrow will be a quick look at the potential battles for positions on the defensive side of the ball.